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Elizabeth BELL (b. 1928)
Spectra (1989)a [17:39]
Duovarios (1987)b [12:46]
Songs of Here and Forever (1970)c [20:24]
Les Neiges d’Antan (1998)d [19:58]
Jennifer Rinehart, Loretta Goldberg (pianos)b; Gayla Bauer Blaisdell (soprano)c; Renée Jolles (violin)d; The North/South Chamber Orchestraa; Max Lifchitz (pianocd, conductora)
rec. Recital Hall, Purchase College Conservatory of Music, Purchase, NY, January, February and March 2000 (Spectra, Songs, Les Neiges d’Antan); and Warner Concert Hall, Oberlin Conservatory, March 1998 (Duovarios)




Elizabeth Bell was born in 1928 in Cincinnati and studied first at Wellesley College and later at the Juilliard School of Music under Peter Mennin and Vittorio Giannini. She is not to be confused with her younger namesake Larry Bell (born 1952) whose music has already been discussed here.

The present release gathers four works spanning almost thirty years of her composing life, and thus provides a fair survey of her present output. The earliest work is her substantial song cycle Songs of Here and Forever composed in 1970 setting her own poems written while in her teens and early twenties. Most poems are about the nature of Love; they are mostly love poems to her future husband. The cycle opens and closes with somewhat more descriptive poems, although Love is nevertheless present. Words and music are nicely varied and contrasted so that the whole is most satisfyingly balanced, and interest sustained throughout this large-scale cycle.

Spectra, composed in 1989 and scored for small mixed ensemble (string quartet, woodwind quartet, percussion and piano), is a suite in five contrasted movements, the titles of which speak for themselves: Dream, Dance, Song, March, Storm. The music is appropriately colourful and varied, although the whole is held together by what the composer refers to as “rainbow music” that opens and closes the piece. This also reappears from time to time as a refrain in the course of this vividly colourful work.

Duovarios for two pianos is a theme and variations, albeit one encompassing Rondo and Sonata Form. Here the composer uses a twelve-tone row, although the music may not really be described as serial. It represents one of the composer’s rare forays into twelve-tone writing, which she never really strictly observes. As the other pieces show, she prefers free tonality (or atonality, maybe) which she handles with resourcefulness and imagination. Anyway, Duovarios is substantial and a welcome addition to the repertoire.

Les Neiges d’Antan, actually a full-fledged four-movement sonata for violin and piano, which gives this release its collective title, is the most recent piece here. The title refers to a line from a poem by François Villon, in which it is used as a refrain. It gives some idea as to the emotional content of this substantial piece, that the composer describes as “a dip into the nostalgia of my past”. The first movement (“an amalgam of rondo and variation form”) alternates extrovert and more restrained episodes. The second movement is a deeply felt and moving Elegy “for loved ones I have lost over the years”. The third movement Shadow-Dance is a ghostlike Scherzo in the form of a slow, wistful Waltz with a more animated central section. The final movement The Furies is more complex both musically and emotionally. The music is appropriately nervous and tense, with much propulsive energy and jagged, angular lines. This maybe Nostalgia but it is of a vindictive and angry rather yearning character.

Elizabeth Bell’s superbly crafted, often stringent, imaginative, but strongly expressive music is clearly of its time, closer to Alban Berg than to Webern. Here is a composer who obviously has personal things to say. I look forward to hearing more of her music. Committed and well prepared performances, and very fine recorded sound. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot


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